The Sum of US
Directed by Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling
Written by David Stevens
Premier: July 12, 1994, in Sydney
US Premier: Oct. 1994, Chicago Film Fest
100 min. • Find on imdb
Review by Stephen O. Murray
March 25, 1995.
I think that talking to the audience should be done with voice-overs rather than directly in movies (or not done at all, ye olde “show, don’t tell”), though it works better onstage. I did not think the confiding to the camera was the most affecting part of The Sum of Us, a 1994 Australian movie based on a play written by David Stevens (Breaker Morant), starring the then-unknown-outside-Australia Russell Crowe as Jeff. Jack Thompson (who starred in Breaker Morant) got top billing, playing Jeff’s widower father, Harry.
What I found most moving are the flashbacks to Harry’s mother and her (female) lover [Julie Herbert]. Their being wrenched apart after 40 years earlier is more horrifying than Harry’s stroke, which is brought on by the reaction of Joyce [Deborah Kennedy], his current romance, reacting with horror to learning that his son Jeff is gay—though it’s not clear whether she is most upset by Jeff being gay, Harry encouraging it, or Harry not having told her.
It’s hard to conceive of excessive acceptance, but Harry manages to provide it, freaking out Jeff’s boyfriend Greg [John Polson], who is accustomed to paternal homophobia and doesn’t know what to make of Harry trying to make the boys comfortable. I think the over-accepting father is probably wish fulfillment, so the movie calls to my mind Doña Herlinda y su hijo (Doña Herlinda and Her Son), though Doña Herlinda only makes accommodations to her son’s homosexuality without the embrace of Harry for Jeff’s. (Indeed, Harry seems to be more comfortable and accepting of it than Jeff himself is.)
There are abundant amounts of both comedy and romance (and an unwelcome infusion of melodrama in the last act!) in the movie. Russell Crowe is quite a hunk with powerful thighs much displayed in running (or rugby) shorts, though he is poignantly shy and awkward in the romance line. (Yes, Crowe and Polson kiss onscreen.)
25 March 1995
©1995, 2016, Stephen O. Murray